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The ABC of Alzheimer’s disease

Written by Silusapho Nyanda

How to spot Alzheimer’s and what to do to manage the effects of this debilitating disease.

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, is the name given to a group of conditions where memory, thinking, behaviour and emotion are affected in the brain.

Many South Africans are affected by this condition, but little is known about this type of mental illness.

Ntokozo Ngcobo, a psychiatrist at King Dinuzulu Hospital in Durban, says dementia often affects the elderly. She says that those who suffer from this illness often experience memory loss.

The symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease often develop gradually, but become more severe with time.

“Alzheimer’s disease causes people to lose their ability to recognise familiar places. It’s common for a person living with this form of dementia to wander off or become lost or confused about their whereabouts. Six in 10 people living with dementia will wander off at least once,” she says.

Other symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease include:

  • Difficulty solving problems and planning.
  • Struggling to finish familiar tasks.
  • Difficulty with time and space.
  • Unpredictable and unusual behaviour.
  • Personality and mood changes.

People diagnosed with dementia also tend to rummage through drawers. Alzheimer’s South Africa, a non-governmental organisation, says this happens when a person with Alzheimer’s hides an object, then forgets where it is. Other people appear to rummage through items that are familiar and reassuring to them. The desire to have familiar things around them can sometimes be combined with hoarding extra items, whether it’s food, paper or clothes.

How to manage Alzheimer’s disease

There is no known cure for Alzheimer’s disease, but it can be managed with medication and engaging in activities such as gardening.

According to Alzheimer’s South Africa gardens can be wonderfully therapeutic for everyone.

For more information, visit Alzheimer’s South Africa's website at www.alzheimers.org.za or call 011 792 2511. Alternatively, you can visit the nearest public health facility in your community.